John Verdon’s debut novel Think of a Numb3r introduces readers to retired NYC detective Dave Gurney, the man responsible for catching several well-known serial killers. Now he lives a quiet life in Walnut Crossing with his second wife, Madeleine. He spends his time “enhancing, clarifying, intensifying criminal mug shots” which he sells through gallery owner Sonya Reynolds, a woman he spends just a tad too much time thinking about.
Out of the blue he receives a message from an old college classmate, Mark Mellery. Mellery is ” the director of some sort of institute in Peony and he did a series of lectures that ran on PBS.” Mark needs Dave’s help. He’s received a cryptic note:
Do you believe in fate? I do, because I never thought I’d see you again – and then one day, there you were. It all came back: how you sound, how you move – most of all, how you think. If someone told you to think of a number, I know what number you’d think of. You don’t believe me? I’ll prove it to you. Think of any number up to a thousand – the first number that comes to your mind. Picture it. Now see how well I know your secrets. Open the little envelope.
The note is creepy; the fact that the envelope contains the very number that Mark thought of, creepier still. Mark claims that the number he thought of – 658 – “has no particular significance to me.” The note also asks Mark to send $289.87 to a post office box in Connecticut. Mark has sent the money, but the check has not been cashed. It’s a perplexing situation and Mark is looking for some guidance.
Think of a Numb3r is a well-written mystery but I found it just a tad slow. Even after the bodies start to pile up, I felt like the same evidence was being recounted too often. A lot of names to remember- DAs and other detectives and such. As for Dave, he just seems pissed off all the time. Okay – yes, there’s been tragedy in his life which may explain some of it away, but then the reconciliation with Madeleine at the end seems a little trite. We get to hear just a little too often how famous Dave is and , yeah, we get it – he’s caught some monsters.
As far as the mystery – it’s good enough. There are certainly some compelling elements – footsteps in the snow which vanish into thin air, clues left for the police which are clearly meant to demonstrate how smart the villain is. I just wish it had all unfolded a teensy bit quicker.